The Santo Domingo el Antiguo Altarpieces (1577-79)
by EL GRECO

Having the previous month signed the contract for The Disrobing of Christ for the vestry of Toledo Cathedral, in August 1577 El Greco was formally engaged by Diego de Castilla, dean of Toledo Cathedral, to paint three altarpieces for the Cistercian convent of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. The two side altars were to be decorated with The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Resurrection (still in situ), while the main altar received an enormous, multi-tiered altarpiece with six canvases that had as its focus The Assumption of the Virgin (signed and dated 1577, now in the Art Institute, Chicago) and The Trinity (Prado, Madrid). The complex was among the most ambitious of El Greco's career and constituted one of his finest achievements. The missing canvases - The Assumption of the Virgin, The Trinity, and the half-length figures of Saint Benedict and Saint Bernard - have been replaced by copies, so that the character of the altarpiece can still be appreciated.

El Greco was supplied with plans of the church as well as designs for the frames of the lateral altarpieces drawn up by Juan de Herrera, Philip II's architect at the Escorial. El Greco had furnished drawings for the project. Additionally, he was to superintend the design of the frames as well as of a tabernacle and five statues to adorn the main altarpiece - two of Prophets and three of Virtues (Faith, Charity and Hope). Like the frames, these statues were carved - with significant modifications - by Juan Bautista Monegro (c. 1545-1621), who was also responsible for the cherubs holding an escutcheon with the sudarium.

This involvement with the frames of his altarpieces as well as with their sculptural adornment was to become typical of El Greco, who in Venice had learned to model figures in clay and wax to study elaborate poses.

The Santo Domingo altarpieces were a fitting debut for Toledo's greatest artistic genius, newly arrived from Italy, his mind filled with the most advanced ideas about the possibilities of art as a communicator of ideas and as a vehicle for the expression of spiritual values.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 22 minutes):
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa brevis


Preview Picture Data File Info Comment
Retable and side altars
1577-79
-
Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo

1050*1204
True Color
172 Kb



High Altar
1577
Oil on canvas
Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo

950*1301
True Color
180 Kb



The Assumption of the Virgin
1577
Oil on canvas, 401 x 229 cm
Art Institute, Chicago

750*1325
True Color
172 Kb



The Trinity
1577
Oil on canvas, 300 x 179 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

800*1371
True Color
175 Kb



St John the Baptist
1577-79
Oil on canvas, 212 x 78 cm
Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo

494*1355
True Color
77 Kb



St John the Evangelist
1577-79
Oil on canvas, 212 x 78 cm
Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo

514*1352
True Color
79 Kb



Escutcheon with St Veronica's Veil
1579
Oil on wood, 90 x 130 cm
Private collection

1057*800
True Color
90 Kb



The Resurrection
1577-79
Oil on canvas, 210 x 128 cm
Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo

900*1325
True Color
171 Kb



The Resurrection
1577-79
Oil on canvas, 210 x 128 cm
Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo

536*873
True Color
95 Kb




Summary of paintings by El Greco
Crete: before 1567 | Venice: 1567-70 | Rome: 1570-75
Spain
1576-80 (page 1) (page 2) | 1581-85 | 1586-90 | 1591-95 | 1596-1600
Santo Domingo: 1577-79 | Count Orgaz: 1586-88 | Colegio: 1596-1600
Capilla San José: 1597-99 | Illescas: 1603-05 | Apostolado: 1610-14
c. 1600 | 1601-05 | 1606-10 | c. 1610 | after 1610
Oballe Chapel: 1608-13 | Hospital Tavera: 1608-14 | Drawings | Sculptures
Subjects
| Apostles | Saints | Christ | Portraits |